TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Nick Saban spoke to reporters today in his regular Monday news briefing. Here are the highlights:
–Opening comments: “I was really pleased with the way our players responded and competed in the last game. We talked about how this time of the year you are playing your best football and your team is continuing to improve. Good preparation is always probably a key to that improvement. That’s what is going to be a necessary part of our focus moving forward here. This game is a great opportunity for our players, which they’ve created for themselves. As a coach, as any coach and as a staff, we want to do the best job that we can to prepare our team, so we can give them the best opportunity to be successful. It’s no different than last week or any other game that we’ve played all year.
“We had some outstanding performances last week. Amari Cooper, Barrett Jones, who was recognized by the SEC, Eddie Lacy, AJ McCarron on offense. Robert Lester, who was honorable mention recognized by the SEC, Jeoffrey Pagan. Special teams: Landon Collins and Reggie Ragland.”
–On the SEC Championship Game: “It’s a real opportunity for our players. The SEC Championship Game is a great competitive venue. Obviously, two really good teams. Georgia has an outstanding team. They have great balance. They score a lot of points on offense; have a really good quarterback, a good running game. They have a couple of really good skilled guys outside, two really good freshman runners. Aaron Murray does a great job of putting them in the right plays and making all the plays that he needs to make to help them. Todd Gurley has been a fantastic runner for them all year long. They are very productive on offense. Their defense is one of the highest ranked defenses in the country for a lot of reasons.
“They have a lot good players. They do a really good job of coaching them and getting them in the right spots. Jarvis Jones and a couple of these other guys are really outstanding players and have had a really good year. It’s a very well coached team. Mark Richt is one of the most consistent relative to having a good program. His consistency defines success really for the number of good teams that he’s had and the great job that he’s done. Through the years, Georgia has always been one of the most difficult teams to prepare for and play against. This is a great opportunity for our players, and we are certainly looking forward to helping them and trying to put them in the right places to prepare well and to play our best football game.”
–On Kirby Smart’s communication: “Kirby has been with us for a long time. It’s always good to have somebody with you on your staff that thinks like you and you can trust in. It’s one thing to be able to help in the planning of what you are going to do. It’s a whole other set of circumstances to be able to implement that plan when it comes to the game. I think that is something Kirby does a really good job of. He understands the system through and through. He knows how to make adjustments. That’s one thing about defense in this day and age.
“If you play a system, we see so many different things in terms of what we have to defend, you really know how to adapt and adjust what you have systematically, and that’s what’s been good for us and that’s what Kirby has done a really good job of. We communicate a lot during the game, but he certainly does a good job of making adjustments. We speak the same language and have been on the same page for a long time. I have total faith, trust and confidence in what he’s doing during the game in terms of calling the game as well as making adjustments.”
–On scouting Georgia when they haven’t already seen them: “I think it depends on the team. We’ve played against Mark Richt-coached teams before. They’ve played against us before. Even though it is different and they do have different players, philosophically, it’s not like they are completely different than what you played against before. I’m sure they would say the same thing about us. We don’t change defenses every week and they don’t change defenses every week. They don’t change offense. They kind of do what they do and do a good job of executing it. That’s why they are good.”
On AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray being the benchmark in passing efficiency: “I think passing efficiency sums it all up. It means the guy is making good choices and decisions. He has to be fairly accurate with the ball. He’s not throwing it to the wrong guys, and he’s creating a lot of positive plays with his consistency, completion percentage, relative to eliminating the negative plays. These two guys have done it as well as anybody in our league, maybe as well as anybody in the country.”
–On dealing with Jarvis Jones: “He’s a very good player. You certainly have to have a plan to try and help the players that have to block him, so hopefully he can’t just get in one on one situation where it’s a difficult circumstance for somebody. That’s part of the planning that you need to do. There have been games this year where he has made a phenomenal amount of plays, like sacks causing fumbles. The guy is probably one of the best defensive players in the country in terms of his playmaking ability.”
–On comparing Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard: “You obviously haven’t been around here long, but I don’t compare players. I don’t think it’s fair to the players. Both those guys in their own right do a good job for their team and both have made a number of plays. Jarvis is really, really good at what he does and what they ask him to do. Adrian has done a really good job for us in terms of what we have asked him to do.”
–On if T.J. Yeldon was at 100 percent in the Auburn game: “Yeah I think he was at 100 percent. He practiced all week, and I think guys at this time of the year are a little banged and bruised, especially running backs, but he practiced all week. He had a little sprained foot, but he was able to work through it. He’s a tough guy and we just hope we continue to get better and play well this week.”
–On Alabama’s running game effectively neutralizing Georgia’s pass rush: “I think that the more important thing is not creating situations because you have balance and you can run the ball effectively, as well as be able to pass it effectively where you don’t create the down and distance situations where everybody can pin their ears back and come on, which is really a lot of third and five plus situations. That’s where guys that are really good pass rushers can take advantage of the situation that you are in. We have to have a plan for that, but we also have to have a plan on all the other downs, so we are not constantly creating those circumstances and situations by the balance that we play with on the downs previous to that.”
–On Georgia’s two tailback system and the problem that poses: “Especially if the styles are different, and their style is a little different, Todd is a little bit like our guys. He is big, physical, he can inside or outside, can make you miss. He also has power. Their second guy is a very good back in all those regards, but he is a very fast guy, so there is a little change of pace there that the players have to be aware of. You definitely need to be able to make sure that you keep better leverage. You always have to keep good leverage on the runner, but I think when you have guys that have great speed, you have to really be conscious of that.”
–On how big it is for the program for Alabama to be back in the SEC Championship: “It’s a great game to be a part of. It’s a great competitive venue. For all intents and purposes, every time we have been in it, since I’ve been here, this is a playoff game. The two years we played Florida we were No. 1 and No. 2. I don’t know who was 1 or who was 2, but we were 1 and 2. Now you have 2 and 3 playing, which is a great competitive venue. They have certainly earned the right to be there, with their accomplishments and their full body of work. Our team has done the same thing, so it’s the kind of game that players should love to play in, and we are looking forward to it. I think it’s good for every part of the game, but it’s also better when you have success in the game and that’s what our focus needs to be on the entire week with everybody in the organization.”
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